Recommended Read–Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey

Magics Pawn

I was born in 1978. In my small town it was considered enlightened to say something like “I have no issue with gay people, but why do they have to rub it in my face by kissing in public.” I was in high school when Friends first came on tv, and it was considered ahead of its time given it’s “positive” portrayal of Ross’s ex-wife (while incredibly problematic through today’s lens). No one was out at my school. Even Ellen DeGeneres wasn’t out yet.

In those pre-internet days, I found book at the library and at the one bookstore near my house–Waldenbooks. (RIP Waldenbooks). I grew up really poor, but my five dollar a week allowance was usually enough to buy a book each week or every other week. I didn’t spend money on clothes, makeup, or VHS cassettes (RIP), and only rarely on cassettes (RIP) or cd’s. From around the age of seven or eight, the staff at Waldenbooks knew me by name and reading preference. YA wasn’t really a genre at that point in time, so by my tween years I bounced between the kid and adult sections.

My mom didn’t censor what I read or bought, so at twelve I was ready Flowers in the Attic and Gone With the Wind along with the occasional BSC book. After I’d read all of Piers Anthony’s Xanth series and Christopher Stasheff’s Wizard in Rhyme series, I approached my favorite salesperson for a recommendation. I knew Brian liked fantasy, like me, so I knew he’d point me in the direction of a new read. His first recommendation was The Black Gryphon by Mercedes Lackey, which I realize now was a way of feeling me out for my comfort level with nontraditional relationships. When I told him I really liked it and asked which Mercedes Lackey book he thought I should read next, he handed me Magic’s Pawn.

In every reader’s life, there are books that upend the way you view the world. Magic’s Pawn was one such book. Vanyel was the first gay person I ever “met.” At least whom was out to me–Brian was gay, but it would be years before I’d know that. Reading his story made me face my own internal prejudices and come face to face with how awful they were. When I was struggling to come to terms with my own bisexuality around five years later, re-reading Vanyel’s books were healing for me. I wasn’t alone in this. On Twitter, whenever Magic’s Pawn comes up in conversation, it becomes obvious what a huge impact the book had on my generation.

mercedes lackeyMercedes Lackey

Magic’s Pawn is an example of Mercedes Lackey at her best. Because of Magic’s Pawn and The Black Gryphon, I read everything Lackey wrote for years. I’d even spend my meager allowance on hardcovers–an insane luxury for a kid like me. I joined her zine, Queen’s Own (RIP zines) and wrote fanfic with my QO penpal. I bought the filk music associated with her Velgarth books. I have reread her books until they were in tatters, and then bought new copies. Which is probably why I’m disproportionately upset that she is still writing books in that universe despite being obviously tired of doing so. She can do so much better than her current Velgarth books would indicate.

However, I will defend her as an author until the day I die because of Magic’s Pawn trilogy, the Arrows of the Queen trilogy, The Vows and Honor books, By the Sword, The Black Gryphon, The Bardic Voices series, the Diana Tregarde series, and The Fire Rose. I like plenty of her other books, but those are the ones that made an indelible mark on my youth.

If you haven’t read Magic’s Pawn, you should. It stands the test of time.

vanyel fanartsource

Vanyel has only one thing he’s ever dreamed of being–a Bard.  Unfortunately he’s also the heir to his father’s estate, so music isn’t a career that’s in the cards for him.  He’s too small and fine boned to sword fight like his larger bulkier brothers and cousins, but his swordsmaster feels that the fast feint and dash method that would match his build is “cheating.”  Jervis promptly breaks his arm in punishment for “cheating.”

Apart from his older sister Lissa-who is sent away within the first chapter to become a guardswoman (there’s one girl in every generation who bucks tradition–and you always know who because they inherited the “Ashekevron nose)-he’s left without close friend or ally.

When he’s sent to Haven-the capital city of Valdemar-he’s told that he can’t even take his horse.  Insult after insult is given–he’s taken to the city between two of his father’s guards like a common criminal.  He’s so hurt that he decides

It was so simple–just don’t give a damn.  Don’t care what they do to you and they do nothing.

But like every emotionally abused child who has ever thought that before or after Vanyel, all it does is serve to isolate him further.

Left in his aunt’s care, he has no clue what to make of his unexpected freedom, his lessons with the bards, or Tylendel (one of his aunt’s students.)  His lessons, though, only serve to crush his one remaining hope–that he would be taken into Bardic Collegium and be made a Bard.  He’s a beautiful musician, but he doesn’t have the bardic gift and he doesn’t compose–and he’d need one of the two for them to remove him from the position of his father’s heir.  Vanyel is left without hope for the future.

Vanyel’s drawn to Tylendel, but has no words to describe what it is he’s feeling or why until a girl at court mocks ‘Lendel’s sexual preferences.  It is a lightning bolt to Vanyel, who hadn’t even realized that such pairings were even possible.  Watching them come together is powerful, as is the scene from the next morning when they sit down with his aunt to talk about what will happen now that he and Tylendel are a couple…

“The first problem and the one that’s going to tie in to all the others, Vanyel, is your father.”  She paused, and Vanyel bit his lip.  “I’m sure your realize that if he finds out about this, he is going to react badly.”

Vanyel coughed, and bowed his head, hiding his face for a moment.  When he looked back up, we was wearing a weary, ironic half-smile; a smile that had as much pain in it as humor.  It was, by far and away, the most open expression Savil had ever seen him wear.

“‘Badly’ is something of an understatement, Aunt,” he replied rubbing his temple with one finger.  “He’ll–gods, I can’t predict what he’ll do, but he’ll be in a rage, that’s for certain.”

“He’ll pull you home, Van.” Tylendel said in a completely flat voice.  “And he can do it; you’re not of age, you aren’t Chosen, and you’re aren’t in Bardic.”

“And I can’t protect you,” Savil sighed, wishing that she could.  “I can stall him off for a while, seeing as he officially turned guardianship of you over to me, but it won’t last more than a couple of months.  Then–well, I’ll give you my educated guess as to what Withen will do.  I think he’ll put you under house arrest long enough for everyone to forget about you, then find himself a compliant priest and ship you off to a temple.  Probably one far away, with very strict rules about outside contact.  There are, I’m sorry to say, several sects who hold that the shay’a’chern are tainted.  They’d be only to happy to ‘purify’ you for Withen and Withen’s gold.  And under the laws of the kingdom, none of us could save you from them.”

Looking back, it’s pretty revolutionary that this scene was written in the late 80’s when homosexuality was a huge cultural taboo and AIDS was a death sentence.  The Reagan administration was delaying research into HIV/AIDS because it was seen as a “gay disease.”  It was written long before conversion therapy was debunked as dangerous and damaging.  Lackey’s sex scenes are all off-page, but she was writing relationships like Tylendel and Vanyel (and even a potential all female triad relationship years earlier) long before we were having cultural discussions about LGBTQA representations in media and critiquing lack of representation.

While the spectre of Vanyel’s father looms over the relationship and has them playing a double game, the real danger to the relationship is from ‘Lendel.  More to the point, Tylendel’s obsession with a family feud his family has going with the Leshara family.  Lendel’s twin brother is the lord of their holding, and Lendel wants to take his side.  Heralds must be neutral, and Lendel is anything but.  When his brother is murdered, Tylendel’s control snaps, and he uses Vanyel to seek revenge.

—and that’s just the first half of the book. (description borrowed from my book blog)



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